funding for this program was provided by the annenberg/cpb project. [spirited piano melody] (male narrator) there are as many ways to approach the creation of music as there are creative artists. [jazzy saxophone music] the process falls on a continuum between improvisation, musical creation that takes place during performance
[banjo plucking] ♪ pretty polly. ♪ and composition, musical creation conceived before performance. compositions are preserved either through memory or notation, so that they can be repeated over and over again. (leek) a composer's role, i think, is to provide enough information to pass on to performers what they would like re-created in sound. [traditional arabic music played on the oud] (shaheen) the idea behind improvisation is to create an instant composition without preparing it or preconceive it as composition. it's a composition that is being composed on the spot. [sticks clacking]
[cultural music montage] [rock music] (dispirito) i think that composing and improvising are very closely related because they are both somehow the shaping of musical ideas. to me, compositions though represent a formalization of those ideas into a particular structure or a shape. improvisation is also shaping of a musical idea, but it is always somewhat free from having to do it the same twice or bringing other people in on it necessarily
because it's your own personal expression. [rock music continues] (narrator) while most musical cultures have elements of both composition and improvisation, the degree to which a performer may add to what is given by the composer varies significantly from culture to culture and genre to genre. in north indian classical music, performers work with a small amount of precomposed music. the bulk of the performance is improvised. (das gupta) a raga has got only six or seven or eight basic phrases each lasting for five seconds. now, if you are going to give a two-hour recital what are you going to do? even that precomposed portion, the theme, that would possibly last for a minute at best.
how are you going to fill in the rest of two hours? improvisations and improvisations. [ensemble playing a raga] (narrator) since the late 18th century, composers of western art music have left little room for improvisation. instead, they have relied on the score as a blueprint for performance. however, the interpretation of that score by the musicians is an essential element. [ensemble playing classical music]
(ying) even though you have that limited parameter, there's an infinite variety in the number of ways that a given passage can be played. for instance, you can have the same passage of music, and one person could play it very nobly and heroically, and another person could play that very same passage of music and bring out maybe the more thoughtful and reflective quality of it. and the interesting thing was both of those qualities were there in the music, but these two performances bring out different aspects of the same masterpiece. [choir singing] (narrator) in the latter part of the 20th century, many composers have experimented with elements of both composition and improvisation in their music. the australian composer stephen leek works with voices and vocal techniques to create a rich tapestry of sound. while his compositions are notated, leek often leaves room
for a certain amount of improvisation during the performance. nevertheless, his scores are crucial in providing direction and structure for the performers. (leek) an example of perhaps the way i might manipulate some material or work with an idea is in "wirindji" which is the first movement of "great southern spirits", where i had a very simple little motif which goes like this. [plays sample] that's fairly traditional-- fairly ordinary sort of motif or idea, and so when i started sort of playing around with it i discovered i could do lots of different things to it to create some different sorts of colors. so the opening of irindji" for instance, starts like this [plays light lullaby ending in discord] [choir sings same piece] there already we start to see the
germination of the larger piece. the small idea [plays] and it goes on [continues playing] just repeating the same idea the same idea but spread out over a couple of octaves [plays] i think a composer's role in passing on information which other people can interpret is to be as clear as possible. sometimes there isn't the language for that to happen explicitly. sometimes you have to invent new symbols or something to suggest the sorts of sounds that you want,
because there are no finite symbols for every sound. sometimes you have to create graphic scores or have a combination between standard notation and graphic. [women singing and men whispering "wirindji"] in interpreting the scores the performer is always open to some sort of interpretation. in "great southern spirits", for instance the "kondalilla" movement opens with the sopranos being given a boxed set of information that says, "individually ad lib repeat material, ad lib." so a singer might come in alone with something like ♪ kooonnggoooohhh. ♪ i've given the dynamics, i've given the articulation, i've given the sound i've given the pitch but really the duration of the overall shape and form
is up to the performer's discretion. i think that this sort of compositional involvement by the performers allows them to feel like they are actually contributing to the piece, and in fact, they have a sense of ownership of the work as well. (narrator) improvisation is a central ingredient in many musical traditions. this is certainly the case with jazz. while the underlying form of jazz is based on composed works, in essence, to be a jazz musician means to be an improvisor. (redman) we improvise in every aspect of our lives. i'm improvising now when i'm talking to you because i don't know what i'm going to say before i say it. improvisation is something which is basic to human life. [jazz music] in jazz, what you're required to do is to play what you feel
at the spur of the moment. but you are also required to improvise within certain contexts. you have to be aware of the written melody that you play. you have to be aware of the harmonic sequence. in most cases, you're going to be improvising within and around that harmonic sequence. you have to be aware of the length of the song of the form of the song because in most cases, in jazz you're going to be improvising around that form. usually, the prewritten part of the performance is very short relative to the whole performance. you begin by stating a melody which is over a sequence of harmonies and within a certain form. that will be, in a sense the composition. and after that you launch into improvisation.
jazz is a language that has been defined and refined over a period of about a hundred years. and anyone who is trying to be an improvisor in jazz has to be familiar with that language. the language consists of many different things. it consists of certain melodic fragments-- melodies that every jazz musician will know and can become familiar with. charlie parker, one of the most important improvisors in jazz, created melodies which were so strong and which influenced so many people that they've become cliches of the language. for example, [plays sample]
you would never want to play a whole improvisation with that, with that one idea, and in fact, most improvisations i play don't have that idea in them but they may make reference in some way to that idea. the language of jazz is not just melodic cliches, it's also the harmonies that we use in jazz and the way the melodies that we use relate to the harmonies. for example, if i kind of outline a certain chord [ascending notes of a chord played individually] that chord wants to go somewhere else. it wants to go here. [descending notes of the same chord] now, if i'm going to improvise over those chords,
i'm going to try to create a melody which fits with those harmonies. so you have to have not only a knowledge of the language, a sensitivity to what everyone else is playing, but also a sense of where you are, where you've been and where you're going. that's tough. it's hard, but it also one of the most fulfilling and enriching forms of musical expression. and i think that is why most people who start playing jazz don't stop. [arabic classical music]
(narrator) in arabic classical music, there are genres of composed repertoire as well as genres that are entirely improvised. unlike improvisation in jazz where performers are guided by a progression of chords improvisation in arabic music is completely melodic and is based on a system of scale types known as maqam. (shaheen) improvisation, we call it in arabic taqasim, and taqasim is one of theost important genres in arabic music. it shows the knowledge the experience the abilities of the musician, whether its a vocalist or an instrumentalist. when we play taqasim we have to make the main choice, which maqam i'm going to choose as my main mode
in the improvisation. for example, if i use a maqam that is called rast r-a-s-t, then this is the main maqam. i should start with this maqam and i can modulate to whatever i want but at the end of the taqasim, i have to go usually to the rast. [music continues] the most important feature in taqasim is the ability to build up a melody and the more you modulate, the more intense the improvisation becomes.
the most important thing would be to understand that it has to be created on the spot. and it very much depends on the artistry and the knowledge the experience of the musician. now, it is true that much of the ideas, the music ideas, with experience, they might repeat themselves but it's never the same. you can never hear an idea repeated twice the same. it could be close, but it's never the same. and the whole idea is to-- maybe you repeat some ideas-- but to come up with some creative concepts that are very new and very maybe revolutionary also musically speaking.
(narrator) all musicians are steeped in the musical language of their culture. and each composer has his or her own way of working with musical materials. but the actual process of creating music goes beyond the theoretical as artists bring their own inspiration to the task of shaping musical material. (shapiro) camille saint-saens said "i write music the way apple trees grow apples." i wish that was true for me. it's not quite so easy. the process is always different. sometimes i work with a synthesizer and a computer and i make a sequence, and i actually make the music in sound like the way you make a pot. it's wonderful. it's like molding; it's like shaping, you know. another time, maybe i'm writing
the notes on paper. i might try something at the piano, sit at my desk write a little while try something else go back, write a little while. in either case, i don't think it matters too much. it's a kind of slowed-down improvisation. one time i had a piece to do for a british vocal ensemble called electric phoenix and i didn't know what i would do for them. i took a walk down along the waterfront here in providence where i live. [soprano voice singing] it was once beautiful. i mean, it's ruined now. it's like old dirty oil tanks and bits of trash, etcetera. but underneath all of that overlay, you could see the gorgeous shape of the land going down to the water and the
water surrounding it. and you could see that it had been beautiful and it had been ruined. and it was this incredibly powerful image for me of that and required it seemed to me, either just a scream of complaint or a prayer that somehow that damage could be unraveled. i found a text "prayer for the great family", and commenced to work on that piece and wrote it very quickly. ♪ our bodies sing. ♪ ♪ above the water. ♪ ♪ clouds, lakes, rivers glaciers. ♪ ♪ holding water, we sing. ♪ i think that what i'm writing is one long piece, and that i chop off a section of it, and i give it out
and every piece has something of the material that came before it. every piece is an intersection. i live a life. i have children, i have parents, a wife-- each piece is an intersection. there's a technical study that's going on. i'm learning all the time. and i'm living a life and learning all the time what's in my heart, you know what's in the world around me. and each piece represents a special intersection between those two things. ♪ inner, my soul beat. ♪ ♪ soul beat. ♪ (narrator) in rock and roll, both composition and improvisation are important components of performance. and these processes involve the whole band.
while the song may be composed initially by one band member often the rest of the group will have a role in shaping the piece for performance. (glabicki) i often feel i'm being led to a song as opposed to creating a song. i compose on acoustic guitar. it's my medium just like oils or watercolors. [guitar strumming] for me, i'm lucky because i'm living in the '90s where i can throw a tape recorder on and record whatever just came through me ♪ rebel is demising. ♪ and listen back to it later on and decide what do i want to piece together,
you know, make a song. ♪ each pebble made by mountains. ♪ after you receive something you want to go with, at that point that's where the struggle comes in because it becomes even harder, at that point to have somebody sitting in front of you and still remain unattached from it because i continue at that point, to bring it into the world to birth it. as you raise a child it's not just the parents that raise the child it's the community around the child. so i'm always open to being shown ways to help that song grow. that's bringing it to the band. (dispirito) michael brings a musical idea to the group and everybody sort of puts their twist on it. maybe the groove should move a little over here, or maybe we should put a section in here that emphasizes this or maybe we should end it this way.
somehow everybody gets involved in the process of trying to help shape this musical entity. trying to think of something and then come back to the new part. you were supposed to switch when i sing again, like the first verse. yeah, i didn't because i spaced it a little bit. i was trying to think of something to go into there. then i went into it, and still it didn't feel right. [playing bass guitar] (buynak) it always reminds me of the stone soup story where you have the pot in the middle of town with nothing but boiling water and everybody is asked to bring what they have to the center. so i think that process is a very communal way to approach a piece of music. (donovan) there's so many different little processes that go on because there's going be vocal harmonies there's going be vocal inflections, there's how the rhythm sections work together, the drums, the percussion, the bass and the drums
how the guitars work together. it's really complex, but a lot of times if you listen to a song and you pick apart each part you realize that there's no one part that is just incredibly complex. they're all real simple parts, all put together weaved together to make this thing that sounds really complex but in its essence it's really simple. [mellow rock music with flute and drums] (berlin) the live performance-- that's the place where we get to sort of try it out on people and see how it works. the parts really take on a new depth to them. (glabicki) the audience gives to it.
you can visualize it as a tree. back to when i receive a seed of it i bring it until it's about this big, you know and i present it to the band and then we work on the foundation of it. then when you perform it it starts to change all different seasons, and change colors, and then it gets much bigger. then you truly realize that there's something bigger happening. it's not your song anymore. it's gone. [music continues]